With hazy technicolor lights sweeping across the stage at Trans-Pecos in Queens, three NYU bands took center stage on Saturday night.
The first group, a North Jersey ensemble called Malibu, served up a mix of blues rock revival. The group showed potential, but lacked creative prowess and technical proficiency. Despite the great energy, there wasn’t that much to differentiate Malibu from the myriad of neo-blues rock groups that have entered the mainstream as of late. Specifically glaring, was the group’s cover of Neon Trees’ “Everybody Talks.” The vocals and the instruments were out of tune. Although there was great chemistry on stage, the talent simply wasn’t there.
Things immediately took a turn for the better however, once Pom Pom Squad took to the stage. The first song launched with driving momentum. The singer and frontwoman, Mia Berrin, commanded the stage with a definite presence, mixing dry humor with candid confessions. Her singing wasn’t technically perfect, but that’s what made it appealing. Her voice exuded a kind of emotional nuance combined with punk aggression that was powerful and infectious. One tune, “Hate it Here,” was particularly memorable. The group bombarded the audience with a wall of sound, with Berrin’s raw, torn voice soaring atop the cacophony of emotional vibrancy.
The live rendition of “You/Him (maybe),” was more subtle than other songs, but just as honest and enjoyable. Berrin let loose a flurry of unique lyrics, like “you’re a big city trapped in a small town.” The guitar interlude in the second half of the song was fitting. The piercing notes matched the tortured vibe of the song perfectly. Track after track, Pom Pom Squad delivered a potent combination of creative gusto and emotional conviction.
Next up was the final act. Before Been Stellar played its own work, it was joined on stage by fellow NYU musician, Nando Dale. Dale played and sang his own work, while Been Stellar backed him up with additional instrumentation. Dale and crew jumped in with a great opening, abound with energy. The second song juxtaposed well with the opener. It was a dark and brooding track that bounced back and forth between melancholy and rage. Like traveling through the singer’s synapses, the song was a real lo-fi trip through the peaks and valleys of a musician’s mentality.
Dale left the stage and headliner Been Stellar quickly got to work. The group’s opening song was extremely well executed, with a lot of momentum. Throughout the set, Sam Slocum, the lead singer, employed an effortlessly natural build in energy with his voice, sometimes rising to a point of almost screaming. The vocals were raw and aggressive. They mixed well with the driving guitar riffs and thick bass line.
One of the best songs was easily “Sells Out.” The tune was rife with idiosyncratic lyrics like “yeah my hair is shaved but I always wear a hat,” sung with a signature croon and backing instrumentals reminiscent of Jay Reatard and similar garage rockers of yesteryear. The track is gritty and unfiltered. This tune is dripping with angst and rage in all the right ways. The group’s last track was a cover of the Stroke’s “Hard to Explain.” While the rendition wasn’t as impressive as Been Stellar’s original works, it was still awesome to see its version of a bonafide classic by a fellow New York City band. It was definitely a fitting end to a fantastic show.
A version of this article appeared in the Jan. 29 print edition. Email Connor Gatesman at [email protected]